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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Mar 9, 2011, 5:37 pm

Updated: Wisconsin Republicans Force Through Bill, Protesters Retake Capitol

BY Joe Macaré

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A young protester chews over the prospect of work without collective bargaining rights at the Wisconsin State Capitol on March 9, 2011 in Madison, Wis.   (Photo by Meg Gravesdale)

Working In These Times is rounding up coverage of the latest developments in Madison, where the Wisconsin GOP has managed to pass the key anti-union measure of Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget legislation. Watch this space for updates.

The Uptake’s summary beneath their live video coverage is explosive in its brevity: “Wisconsin Republicans pass a bill to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights. There is a call for a general strike. People are occupying the capitol.”

The Wisconsin GOP have gone ahead with what Dave Wiegel of Slate calls “the nuclear option.”

Or as Mother Jones' ongoing Wisconsin Explained put it: "The Republicans have taken the pieces of Walker's legislation that affect unions—including eliminating bargaining rights for most public-sector unions—and made them into a separate bill which they claim they can pass without Democrats being present."

Why do Republicans hate unions quite so much, anyway? At Daily Kos, Laura Clawson reported today on the candor shown by Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald when he admitted to Fox News that a big part of their motivation is about winning elections and ensuring President Obama has a "much more difficult time getting elected."Working In These Times' Mike Elk is providing updates via Twitter. In his words, "Gov. Walker just broke the glass on the fire alarm for the class war." Elsewhere on Twitter, WORT News has reported that the University of Wisconsin Police Department "has delivered hundreds of plastic handcuffs to Capitol."

Others worth following for on-the-ground updates via Twitter include journalist David Douglas and protest leader Thomas Bird. Shortly after 8.30pm CST Bird reported "We took back the capitol. Breached every door," and has since announced "We are going to maintain peace, attempt to block assembly chamber."

Madison resident Meg Gravesdale sent me the following update from inside the Capitol around 8.50pm CST:

"Lots of people inside and outside. We were walking by a door and people started shouting "it's open!" And we ran in. We're now on the third floor and they've blocked people from coming up here so we're camped out outside the press room. Lots of families and kids outside before we came in. Lots of hugging and smiling. I've seen many of the little segment of Madison people I know. People are thanking police officers and there's lots of chanting and drumming but its peaceful."

And circa 10pm:

"There was a chant of "general strike" earlier, but I haven't heard it since. There are rumors of police trying to clear the capital, but I'm not sure WHICH police... there are mostly state troopers from what I can see. They are apparently letting people up to this floor again... someone just told me he just walked up. There's a general sense of outrage but no one is threatening violence. There are babies and kids here with their families. It's certainly loud.... We're right outside the press room and there is a steady stream of people in and out. Just got told that Dane county police will not clear us... so they have to be state troopers or from out of the county to clear anyone out."

10:20-10:40pm:

"As the crowd was chanting "show me what democracy looks like" I walked past a state trooper who quietly said "this is what democracy looks like" and when I thanked him he gave a huge smile. People are talking about a sleepover."

According to Wisconsin State government reporter Mary Spicuzza, DOA spokesman Tim Donovan says there have been no arrests today at the State Capitol, and there will be no effort to clear the Capitol tonight.

Jessica Arp of WISC-TV has photos of the sit-in in the Assembly antechamber and Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs meeting with protesters. Tubbs says he is asking for voluntary compliance for protesters to leave .

More from Meg Gravesdale circa 11:15pm:

"We're in the west gallery where people are trying to get up to the third floor. People are chanting "let them up please" and passing food and water past the state troopers. The crowd is dispersed but sleeping bags are being passed up."

Sleep well, Madison!

Here's The Media Consortium's rolling Wisconsin updates:


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Joe Macaré is a writer, editor and development and communications professional, originally hailing from the UK and now residing in Chicago. His writing has appeared at In These Times, TruthOut, AlterNet, Dazed and Confused, The Times, Plan B and Stylus. He has appeared on WBEZ radio and Chicago Newsroom to discuss his extensive coverage of the Occupy Chicago movement.

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